Hibakusha, a Blogumentary


The Story About Hiroshima and Nagasaki You’ve Never Heard

“Everything is connected,” exclaimed Takeshi Miyata as he walked along the railway at the Auschwitz death camps, almost 70 years after Jews were carted off to slaughter in the same location. “Jewish scientists escaped the Nazis, helped America build an atomic bomb, and it was dropped on me.”

Anyone who entered Hiroshima and Nagasaki within two weeks of the release of the only two atom bombs detonated over people were designated as Hibakusha: “Exposed to the atomic bomb/radiation.” Miyata, and eight other members of the Peace Boat Hibakusha Project, had traveled halfway around the world from Japan. They shared their cautionary tales of nuclear power in each port of call along the way. Some spoke publicly for the first time in their lives. I was their web reporter.

Read more on National Geographic Voices .

In Nagasaki, New Art Exhibit “Antimonument” Rethinks The Bomb

“What is Antimonument supposed to mean?” I asked Ryuta Imafuku, cultural anthropologist at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

“There is no such thing as ‘supposed to,’” replied Imafuku, partner of visual artist Shinpei Takeda, whose new exhibit, “Antimonument,” is on display at the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum until September 13th. “What do you think Antimonument means?” he asked.

“A monument is permanent,” I said. “’Antimonument’ is traveling around the world. You can take it apart, move it from city to city, and still send a permanent message.”

He shook his head at the simplicity of my explanation.

“There is no right, and there is no wrong. The monument is a public collective symbol of the memory.  However, our relationship with the past should not be singularly communicated by the symbols of the monument. The monument has power related to some sort of political motivation. So ‘Antimonument’ questions that ideology.”

On August 13, a week after the anniversaries of Japan’s atomic bombings, both Imafuku and Takeda led a public tour of Nagasaki—itself a living extension of Takeda’s “Antimonument.”

Read more on National Geographic Voices. 


 “It appears the world-changing event didn’t change anything, and it’s disappointing,”said Pieter Franken, a researcher at Keio University in Japan (Wide Project), the MIT Media Lab (Civic Media Centre), and co-founder of Safecast, a citizen-science network dedicated to the measurement and distribution of accurate levels of radiation around the world, especially in Fukushima. “There was a chance after the disaster for humanity to innovate our thinking about energy, and that doesn’t seem like it’s happened.  But what we can change is the way we measure the environment around us.”

Franken and his founding partners found a way to turn their email chain, spurred by the tsunami, into Safecast; an open-source network that allows everyday people to contribute to radiation-monitoring.

“We literally started the day after the earthquake happened,” revealed Pieter. “A friend of mine, Joi Ito, the director of MIT Media Lab, and I were basically talking about what Geiger counter to get. He was in Boston at the time and I was here in Tokyo, and like the rest of the world, we were worried, but we couldn’t get our hands on anything. There’s something happening here, we thought. Very quickly as the disaster developed, we wondered how to get the information out. People were looking for information, so we saw that there was a need. Our plan became: get information, put it together and deseminate it.”

An e-mail thread between Franken, Ito, and Sean Bonner, (co-founder of CRASH Space, a group that bills itself as Los Angeles’ first hackerspace), evolved into a network of minds, including members of Tokyo Hackerspace, Dan Sythe, who produced high-quality Geiger counters, and Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s former Chief Technical Officer. On April 15, the group that was to become Safecast sat down together for the first time. Ozzie conceived the plan to strap a Geiger counter to a car and somehow log measurements in motion. This would became the bGeigie, Safecast’s future model of the do-it-yourself Geiger counter kit.

Armed with a few Geiger counters donated by Sythe, the newly formed team retrofitted their radiation-measuring devices to the outside of a car.  Safecast’s first volunteers drove up to the city of Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture, and took their own readings around all of the schools. Franken explained, “If we measured all of the schools, we covered all the communities; because communities surround schools. It was very granular, the readings changed a lot, and the levels were far from academic, but it was our start. This was April 24, 6 weeks after the disaster. Our thinking changed quite a bit through this process.”

Since their first tour of Koriyama, with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Safecast’s team of volunteers have developed the bGeigie handheld radiation monitor, that anyone can buy on and construct with suggested instructions available online. So far over 350 users have contributed 41 million readings, using around a thousand fixed, mobile, and crowd-sourced devices.

According to Franken, “We’re working with communities to install these sensors in people’s neighborhoods. We’re financed by donations only. We get donations so we put together a plan, volunteers provide space, and Internet access, and agree that the data collected are public.

“What we’ve come to determine in Fukushima is that radiation levels are spotty. They can vary from street corner to street corner. We’ve also been able to determine that the levels over the last five years have reduced, partly because of half life of cesium, and because of environmental factors. We’ve also seen an increase in official government data being released in a similar style to Safecast’s drive-by method versus spot checking.”


Read more on National Geographic Voices.

PRI's The World - See Japan's nuclear legacy — from Fukushima to Hiroshima

Ari Beser is a photographer from Baltimore, but his family history connects him to Japan. His grandfather, Jacob Beser, helped drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Listen to the story of Beser's friendship with Keiko Ogura, a Hiroshima survivor.)

In 2011, Beser set out to learn more about the long-term impact of the US nuclear bombings of Japan. But the year he traveled there, a tsunami struck the Fukushima nuclear power plant, causing an explosion and meltdown that left much of the area uninhabitable.

His research into both nuclear weapons and nuclear power turned him into an anti-nuclear activist. What follows is a photo essay that documents the effects of both nuclear weapons and nuclear power, through Beser’s eyes.


For me, nuclear weapons and nuclear power are part of the same story. Both have had devastating effects in Japan, causing widespread suffering and devastation.

Six years ago, I set out to share the stories of atomic bomb survivors with young people across the world. But after the tsunami struck Japan, I joined relief efforts, and over time I grew more connected to what happened there.

One part of that disaster remains devastating. A triple nuclear meltdown has created 70,000 nuclear refugees who will never be able to go home in Fukushima. Even as they resettle and lose the legal status “displaced,” their lives will never be the same.

From the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, through the fifth anniversary of the nuclear disaster, I have tried to share the stories of people directly affected by nuclear technology. On the Fulbright National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, I met with numerous survivors of both atomic bombs — and many residents of Fukushima who were forced from their homes. Click on the first Photo to see the rest.

Frozen Clocks and Radiation Mark Fukushima's Abandoned Towns

Years after the nuclear disaster in Japan's Fukushima prefecture, radiation levels are still dangerously high. The once lively towns are empty — the clocks stopped at the time of the earthquake, the buildings remain abandoned, and in place, food and unopened mail still sits within the homes. Yet passing through checkpoints and donning protective garb, some prior residents return to visit their homes and share their stories and caution against nuclear power.

As time passes and billions of dollars are spent on clean-up efforts, radiation levels have begun to fall. Exclusion zone towns that are furthest from the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant are beginning to see restrictions lifted, however, those closer to the epicenter of the disaster may never be able to return.

Read more on how six years later, Frozen Clocks and Radiation Mark Fukushima's Abandoned Towns

Follow The Blogumentary on National Geographic

Takeshi Miyata walks through Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau. He survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki at the age of 5, and decades later joined Peace Boat to go around the world and share his experience. On this trip him and seven other survivors met a survivor from Auschwitz. 

Takeshi Miyata walks through Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau. He survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki at the age of 5, and decades later joined Peace Boat to go around the world and share his experience. On this trip him and seven other survivors met a survivor from Auschwitz. 

Check out my posts on National Geographic's Voices Blog spanning the last ten months. From the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, through the 5th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima.

You can also view a series of food related stories I produced for National Geographic's new food blog The Plate.

The Nuclear Family: Book Cover

After four years of writing, I have finally completed my 1st book "The Nuclear Family." It will be availabile this summer, July 16, on Amazon and Kindle. This date marks the 70th anniversary of the Trinity Test, the first atomic bomb ever detonated on Earth. 70 years later, over 15,000 nuclear weapons still exist on earth, some unaccounted for. As the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki fades, the likelyhood of a nuclear disaster increases. The faster we eliminate the weapons the safer we all are.

The Nuclear Family

Since we've started this journey together, I've taken every opportunity that has been offered to me in order to fully immerse myself in the world of the atomic bomb and write the most compelling book I could. I accepted an internship at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Museum. This gained me access to their US archives. In fact it was my job to organize them and create a digital database for the Museum. I scanned through page after page, and with the permission of the museum gleaned any information I found interesting for the book. 

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14 Most Memorable Moments of 2014


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Breaking The Nuclear Chain in Rwanda

 69 years ago this week the Atomic Bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 20 years ago this year Rwanda collapsed into genocide. One might not outright compare the two tragedies, but the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, who operates in Rwanda, organized a weeklong peace event to show the personal connection between both countries, and strengthen the relationship. The event was held at Amahoro Stadium, an apt choice as Amahoro means “Peace” in Kinyarwanda.


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It’s a known fact that the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village is brimming with talent. From award winning dancers, singers, and sports teams that compete on the national level, the students here are more than willing to show off their unique abilities. I thought it was time for a talent competition in the Village. Fourth year student, and creator of the Village’s first entertainment TV show, Bruce Nshimiymana, had the same idea, so we combined forces to create the “Come Up and Be Unique” talent competition.

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In 1994, 99.9% of the population of Rwanda witnessed unspeakable violence. Exactly 20 years later, some still cannot utter a word about what they saw. When I was asked to lead a session on the atomic bomb for a group of my fellow staff members, I wasn't sure I could. How do you dare bring up the atrocities of nuclear weapons to people who have seen how evil man can be without them?  


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Look and See What I See

When I first learned I would be teaching photo and video editing at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a few challenging questions came to mind. 

How do you teach photography to students who have never held a camera? 

How do you teach video editing to those who have never watched videos? 

To my surprise, the digital world proved no obstacle for my first and second year students at ASYV. “On our first day of class, I didn't think it would be possible for me to use a camera,” said first year student Cedric Ishimwe, “but now it’s easy for me.

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